Nazism was a political ideology that talked about the need to revive the glorious past of Germans. Nazi ideology was an authoritarian state ideology. It urged people to contribute towards growth of the state and did not appreciate any questioning of state policy by citizens. It was also strongly anti-Communist and anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish). Nazis often blamed Jews and Communists unjustifiably for the ills and weakness of Germany and the hardships faced by the German population in the aftermath of World War 1.
Factors Responsible for the Emergence of Nazism
- The humiliation imposed by the Treaty of Versailles (1919) fueled the revengeful attitude in Germany.
- The weak and ineffective rule of the Weimar Republic, which failed to revive the German economy or address its challenges.
- The Great Depression of 1929 further weakened the German economy and fuelled more discontent against the Weimar Republic.
- A relatively weak and immature democracy that was established in Germany post-WW 1. It failed to impose any effective checks and balances as Hitler tried to concentrate powers in his hand from 1932 – 1935.
- The Charismatic personality and the oratory skills of Hitler, and the lofty promises made by him. Hitler promised the restoration of German pride to the nationalists, employment and better wages to the workers, limiting the communist powers to the capitalist class and more land to the farmers as he talked about Lebensraum.
- Along with these factors, Darwin’s concept of evolution & natural selection, Herbert Spencer’s survival of fittest etc., were used by racist thinkers & politicians to Justify imperial rule over conquered peoples. They felt that the Aryan race was the finest; it had to retain its purity, become stronger & dominate the world.
Events Leading to the Rise of Hitler
- In 1919, after the end of World War 1, Germany was forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Versailles.
- Weimar republic was established in Germany as Kaiser William II abdicated the throne.
- Hitler had served in the German Army during WW 1 and subscribed to ‘Stab in the Back theory’, which blamed German defeat in WW 1 on German political class or the Weimar Republic. The theory suggested that the premature surrender by the German political class was responsible for the defeat in WW 1 rather than any inherent weakness of the army.
- In 1919 Hitler joined DAP (German Worker’s Party), a newly emerging political party with strong views on the racial superiority of Germans and anti-Semitic, anti-Communist sentiments.
- By 1921, Hitler rose to the position of party President in DAP, which was now reconfigured as NSDAP (Nationalists, Socialists German Workers Party). (By Socialism, it only meant a stronger state).
- Weimar Constitution was established based on Proportional representation with Semi Presidential system. The president would be elected directly while the prime minister from parliament.
- Between 1919 – 1923 the Weimar Republic failed to bring any effective resolution of the key economic challenges such as unemployment, shortages of goods, high prices etc.
- Moreover, the weak, indecisive coalition government of the Weimar Republic, coupled with the economic mismanagement and the hyperinflation, led to a total collapse of the German economy and further fuelled public discontent.
- The handover of the SAAR and RUHR region between 1921 and 1925 to France to pay war indemnity was a further humiliation.
- Hitler’s NSDAP (Nazi Party) blamed the Weimer Republic for the ills of Germany and argued for its overthrow. Hitler was inspired by Mussolini’s March on Rome, carried out in 1922 to capture state power.
- In 1923, Hitler attempted to carry out the Beer Hall Putsch to bring about an armed overthrow of the Weimar Republic. He failed and was imprisoned for 5 yrs (of which he spent only ten months in prison), and the Nazi party was banned.
- While in prison, during 1923 -24, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, in which he blamed the Weimar Republic, Communists and Jews for the ills of Germany. The book was sold for more than 5 lakh copies during this period, and the popularity of Hitler soared.
- During 1925-1932, Hitler gave a large number of speeches and his popularity increased further.
- In 1928 – Hitler’s Nazi party (National Socialist German Workers’ Party -NSDAP) received 3% of votes, and the Hung parliament came.
- In 1929 – The Great Depression broke out and adversely impacted the German economy, which was witnessing a revival during this period.
- In 1930 – Fresh parliamentary elections (Reichstag) were held, and Hitler’s Nazi party secured 18.5% of the votes emerging as 2nd most popular party after the Communist Party. Still a Hung parliament.
- In 1932 Presidential elections, Hitler contested against General Von Hindenberg and came 2nd with 36.5% of votes. Hindenberg became president, German Capitalist class intervened and argued that the president must appoint Hitler as interim Prime Minister while Fresh elections could be held later.
- In 1933, the Reichstag fire incident (burning of the parliament building in Berlin) was blamed by the Nazi party on Communists. The Nazis urged Hindenberg to impose an emergency. Hindenberg died in 1934, making Hitler became de-facto in charge of the German government.
- By ‘Enabling Act, 1933’, the dictatorship was already established in Germany. It gave all powers to sideline parliament & rule by decree to Hitler. All political parties & trade unions were banned except for the Nazi party & its affiliates.
Policies of Hitler
- The state established complete control over the economy, media, army & Judiciary. Special surveillance & security forces were created to control & order society in ways that the Nazis wanted. Secret state police (Gestapo), SS (the protection squads), criminal police & the security service (SD) made the Nazi state a dreaded criminal state.
- In 1935, Hitler also introduced the Military Conscription under which teenagers were also inducted into the army. This largely increased the size of the German army and was a clear violation of the Treaty of Versailles.
- Hitler launched a wider crackdown against a communist party which was banned. In 1935, The Night of Long Knives was unleashed as top Communist leaders and Hitler’s rivals in the Nazi party were eliminated. Thus, Hitler consolidated his hold over Germany.
- Hitler gave orders for reestablishing the Navy and forming the Air Force. Moreover, he sent troops to remilitarize the Rhineland region.
- In 1938, in a clear violation of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany annexed Austria. The League of Nations did not take any action.
- The western portion of Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland region, also had a German-speaking population. Hitler sent troops and tried to occupy the region as well.
- In 1938, Czechoslovakia appealed to the League of Nations. Munich peace conference was called in which Germany agreed not to expand any further in Czechoslovakia while its control over the Sudetenland region would be recognized.
- However, a couple of months later, Hitler broke the treaty to annex Czechoslovakia completely, while the League of Nations failed to take any swift action against it.
- By 1939, Despite the earlier professed strongly anti-Communist views, Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union as he sought to invade Poland to reunite Eastern Prussia for moving ahead with the creation of Greater Germany.
- Hitler’s foreign policy: Pulling out of the league of Nations in 1933, reoccupation of Rhineland in 1936, Integrating Austria, Germany in 1938 under ‘one people, one empire, one leader’ policy. Wanted to wrest Sudetenland, a German-speaking region from Czechoslovakia.
- England, who also thought the Versailles treaty harsh, always supported Germany. Hitler was advised on his huge expenses on the rearmament of the state, but he chose war as the way for accumulating resources and helping the economy.
- In 1939, Germany invaded Poland, 2nd World War started. In 1940 ‘Tripartite pact’ was signed between Germany, Italy & Japan, strengthening Hitler’s claim to international power.
- Many puppet regimes supportive of Nazi Germany were installed in large parts of Europe. By 1940 Hitler was at the pinnacle of his power.
- Hitler moved to East Europe and attacked the Soviet Union in 1941. Soviet Red army inflicted a crushing & humiliating defeat on Germany at Stalingrad & established Soviet hegemony over entire Eastern Europe for half a century thereafter.
- Parallelly Japan was expanding its power in the east. It occupied French Indo-China & with Hitler’s support, bombed the US base at pearl harbour. The war ended in 1945 with Hitler’s defeat & the US dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima in Japan.